Last week, God’s Not Dead 2 hit the nation’s movie screens. The sequel to the 2014 sleeper hit tells the story of Grace Wesley, a high school teacher dragged into court for talking about Jesus in her classroom. The movie imagines a hostile government bent on rooting out any trace of religion in public life. As the prosecuting attorney threatens, “We’re going to prove once and for all that God is dead.” The timing of this film’s release may have been intentional.
Then & Now
Religious historians take on the present
In 1963, at the height of segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr. called for creating the beloved community. He exhorted all Americans to stand for justice, not by eradicating our differences but by affirming and claiming our identity, heritage, and legacy. His vision of the beloved community embraced principles of inclusion: sharing the rich resources of the earth; eliminating poverty, hunger, and homelessness; and combating racism and discrimination.
In recent years, debates over the appropriateness of public monuments celebrating Confederate figures have become increasingly common. Along with exposing deep racial divides, these debates have brought to light historical attitudes and structures built on enduring notions of white supremacy. While generally taking place in local contexts, they have ramifications that concern all Americans.
The African American Intellectual History Society, founded in 2014, hosted its first annual conference last weekend at UNC Chapel Hill. Scholars from various disciplines delivered engaging papers around the theme “new perspectives on the black intellectual tradition.” The changing nature of black identity in today’s world is complex.
It was the evening of Super Tuesday, and my social media feeds were filling with expressions of shocked incredulity. “How is this possible?! Has the world gone completely mad?”
Historically, black people and those deemed “homosexual” have been marginalized and silenced on many faith-based campuses. My Then & Now post from December notes the increasing acceptance of black Christians at Christian schools. However, such acceptance has not been extended to LGBTQ Christians. W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk intertwines “the problem of the twentieth century” color line with LGBTQ resistance in the 21st century.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris in mid-November, Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz set off a flurry of controversy when he announced that he believed the federal government should bar Muslim refugees fleeing violence and civil war in Syria from resettling in the United States. He stated on Fox News, “on the other hand, Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them.” After President Obama described these sentiments as “shameful” and “un-American,” Cruz doubled down.
Nearly 15 years ago, the Boston Globe broke the story of the priest-pedophilia and bishop-cover-up crimes. The film Spotlight, which chronicles the investigative reporting behind the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage, is now up for a Best Picture Academy Award. While this new film shines a light on what happened then, watching it now reveals how the Catholic landscape has changed (and not changed) since the story broke in 2002. While the reporters depicted in Spotlight initially pursue the stories of particular priest-pedophiles, the editors see the bigger picture: the bureaucratic system, the hierarchy, and the mindset that allowed these priests to be moved from parish to parish without legal intervention.
The subject of immigration engenders contentious debate, complex discussion, and conniving diatribe among Americans. Four years ago, the mother of a recently elected Republican senator implored her son to be compassionate in his legislative work on the issue. She reminded him of their own family’s journey from central Cuba to south Florida and noted that undocumented immigrants—she called them los pobrecitos, “poor things”—are human beings seeking dignity, work, and a better future just like they were. One wonders if Marco Rubio remembers his mother’s message.
Ammon Bundy’s militia has occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon since January 2. The standoff with authorities continues despite the arrest of Bundy and 11 of his followers and the shooting death of LaVoy Finicum during a traffic stop last week, and despite Bundy’s pleas that the four remaining militia members leave the refuge. They insist that they will not leave until their comrades are released and everyone is pardoned. These conservative Mormons have claimed that God told them to seize the land in defense of ranchers sentenced to jail time for setting fires on federal land.
We live in an era of transition between more stable ages. We face material choices now that will shape and serve our communities for long generations to come. Society is emerging in fits and starts from centuries of essentialism that defined people by race, gender, religion, and class into narrow identities with determined roles.
When asked about Pope Francis’s call to America for a welcoming immigration policy, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) perhaps unwittingly invoked a biblical trope used countless times in American Protestant churches. I call it the “American Nehemiad.” The book of Nehemiah is political.
The new year was rung in with the surprising news of a small militia occupying a federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, deep in rural Oregon. Armed protestors, calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, have called on the U.S. government to reverse policies dealing with public lands that they consider unconstitutional. The group’s leader, Ammon Bundy, a confessing Mormon, said they would remain there until they “restore the land and resources to the people so people across the country can begin thriving again.”
The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have led to an increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric in the U.S. There have been calls to limit the immigration of Muslims. Some have focused as well on the threat from within, arguing for the registration of all Muslims—or even their internment, as with the camps where Japanese Americans were sent during World War II. From the inception of the United States, our government has put in place measures to determine who belongs to this great experiment and who does not.